A guardian ad litem (GAL) said that voluntary care arrangements should be used sparingly and for short periods only, in a case where the judge granted a full care order for two children who has been with the same foster family for the past 10 years.
The matter heard in the Dublin District Court concerned two siblings, a teenaged girl (A) and school aged boy (B). The parents were not legally represented and were not in court. The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) confirmed that the parents had been given full notice of the application. He said the father had attended the court in July and had wanted to engage with services and to secure legal representation. He said neither the social workers nor his office had heard anything else from the father until two days prior to the court date when the father had said he was not objecting to the application. The CFA solicitor said he urged the father to attend the hearing.
He said neither the social workers nor any other workers from the CFA had had any contact from the mother of the children and she had not retained any legal representation. The judge was satisfied the parents knew of the court hearing. Evidence was heard from the social worker, the social work team leader, and the guardian ad litem (GAL).
Evidence of the social worker
The social worker told the court she had been involved with the children for the last two years. She said she oversaw their placement and that all their needs had been addressed. She oversaw any access the children had with their parents. She had limited contact with the parents as they were often uncontactable. She often had to secure access through third parties, such as homelessness or addiction services.
She had repeatedly asked the parents to engage with her to arrange access, but they had not. She had spoken to the parents prior to today’s hearing and urged them to secure legal representation. The issues of domestic violence and drug addiction were still very present in the lives of the parents. The parents had not looked for the children to be returned to their care and had made no discernible efforts to have access with the children. Neither parent had attended the child in care reviews.
The children had been placed with a maternal aunt since being received into care. B had been fostered since birth and had known no other home. A had been fostered with them since she was a toddler. She said the children were happy in their placement and were very well cared for, they call their foster parents Mom and Dad. The foster parents had tried to contact their niece, the mother of the children, but had not been successful.
There had been difficulties in the relationship between the parents and the foster carers. The parents of the children had taken exception to the children’s placement. Often the parents of A and B had thwarted their care by not signing consent forms. An assessment for B was delayed and the children had missed a holiday because consent forms had not been signed. The foster parents had applied and been granted extended foster parents rights in 2021.
She said the children had not really expressed any views about their parents to her. She said the elder girl had said she did not remember them, and B was reluctant to meet people he did not know. Neither child had expressed any desire to have access with them.
She confirmed her report and told the court it was in the best interests of the children that a full care order be made.
Evidence of the social work team leader
The social work team leader told the court the parents had long standing issues with homelessness, addiction and domestic violence. He said their role as parents was fractured. They had a mutual toxic dependency and in his professional opinion they would never be able to care for the children. The children had been in care for over 10 years and the position of the parents had not changed.
He confirmed his reports and stated that the threshold for a section 18 had been reached and it was necessary and proportionate and in the best interests of the children that a full care order be made.
Evidence of the guardian ad litem (GAL)
The GAL said the children had been placed with the maternal aunt and remained there for the last 10 years by way of a voluntary care arrangement. He said he disliked voluntary care arrangements because children who were subject to voluntary care arrangements did not receive as much priority and attention from the CFA as children who were the subject of interim care orders. He said he thought that voluntary care arrangements should be used sparingly and for short periods.
He said the children had spent their whole lives with the foster parents. The children were settled, doing well in school, and were fully assimilated into the community. An application for a full care order was due to be heard some months previously but it had been adjourned. This matter had had an unsettling effect on the children. He said: “When I mentioned the possibility of them returning to their parents, they just looked at me in a state of bewilderment.”
The GAL told the court that the children had clearly stated to him in unambiguous terms that they wanted to stay with their foster parents. He said directly to the judge: “The children have told me to tell you [A] said she was happy where she is and wants things to stay the way they are, and [B] never wants to leave.”
The GAL said he had spoken with the parents. The father could be calm and courteous but also belligerent and violent. The mother had had periods of sobriety, but they had not lasted. The parents had issues of addiction and domestic violence. The prospect of the children ever being parented by their own parents was extremely remote and it was in the children’s best interests that a full care order be made.
The judge thanked the witnesses for their evidence and noted that the children had been in the care of their foster parents for the last 10 years. The parents had been unable to establish or re-establish a parenting relationship. He said he was satisfied the threshold for making a full care order had been met and that it was proportionate and necessary.